Seeing The Old Year Out, The New Year In, With A Jigsaw Puzzle

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 2, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, my family follows an old family tradition of building a jigsaw puzzle together. On December 29, 2019, we poured out 1,000 pieces of “’T’was the Twilight before Christmas,” a Buffalo Games puzzle, on the end of the dining room table, and the fun began. We probably won’t finish the puzzle until next year.

            We began doing this puzzle tradition long before jigsaw puzzles became the self-care trend, replacing adult coloring books. Even book publishers, like Workman Publishing in New York, are getting in on the act, creating puzzles to be available in 2020. The idea behind encouraging people to put together puzzles is for stress relief, causing you to put down your electronic devices and build a puzzle to unwind and relax. It can at least temporarily wean you from your iPhone or your iPad.

            My daughter, who is an Art Director at Workman Publishing, shared with me recently how Workman has partnered with FLOW Magazine in the Netherlands to make their debut into the world of puzzle-makers. This trend has been followed also by other New York publishers. The puzzle can be good therapy for the individual person, or a relaxing way to spend time with your family.

            It is believed that John Spilsbury, an English engraver and map-maker, created the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. It consisted of a map pasted on a wooden board, which was then cut into interlocking pieces. Map puzzles were the first puzzles, and were very educational, because you could learn a lot of geography building a map puzzle. Puzzles have gone a long way since then, encompassing all sorts of deigns, the best puzzles now being made by Buffalo Games, Ravensburger, White Mountain Puzzles, and Ingooood. As new puzzle-makers join the market, the competition gets keener. Through all of this, maps are still very popular puzzle choices.

            As we began working on this year’s family puzzle tonight, we began, as we usually do, by spreading out and turning up all the pieces and building the border first. However, every puzzle-maker has his or her own method of construction, — do edges first, sort pieces by colors, or by individual sections, or, — some even do it the hard way by taking one piece of the puzzle out of the box at a time.

            My family has always enjoyed cat puzzles, or Winter/Christmas Scene puzzles the most. My wife and the New York daughter like the challenge of more abstract designs, but the rest of us insist on beautiful scenes with discernible people, animals, and objects, especially romanticized versions of these. Ever since my wife gave me a Jackson Pollock puzzle, which took a whole year to put together, abstract art as puzzle designs has been a family “No-No.”

            I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t like building puzzles, and I always approached them as fun and enjoyment, never as a stress-reliever, though stress relief may have been a side effect. Psychologists say that puzzle-making helps keep our minds sharp, and, in old age, that’s a very good by-product. No doubt that’s the reason I observed jigsaw puzzles to be worked on by any and all at the various nursing homes I visited as a pastor. I could never resist stopping by the puzzle table and placing a few pieces with the residents. During my childhood, I loved jigsaw puzzles, and Santa Claus made sure I got one every Christmas, or at least one to share with my brother, who preferred baseballs and basketballs which were also given to us jointly.

            Perhaps we will finish this puzzle before the New Year arrives, or perhaps we will put the last piece in place on New Year’s Day. In either case, it’s a good way to see the old year out and the New Year in.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.

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